Self-love, defined as "love of self" or "regard for one's own happiness or advantage", has been conceptualized both as a basic human necessity and as a moral flaw, akin to vanity and selfishness, synonymous with amour propre, conceitedness, egotism, narcissism, et al. However, throughout the centuries self-love has adopted a more positive connotation through pride parades, Self Respect Movement, self-love protests, the hippie era, the New Age feminist movement as well as the increase in mental health awareness that promotes self-love as intrinsic to self-help and support groups working to prevent substance abuse and suicide.
Yang Zhu (440–360 BC) and Yangism viewed wei wo, or "everything for myself", as the only virtue necessary for self-cultivation. All of what is known of Yangism comes from its contemporary critics - Yang's beliefs were hotly contested.
The thoughts of Aristotle (384–322 BC) about self-love (philautia) are recorded in the Nicomachean Ethics and Eudemian Ethics. Nicomachean Ethics Book 9, Chapter 8 focuses on it particularly. In this passage, Aristotle argues that people who love themselves to achieve unwarranted personal gain are bad, but those who love themselves to achieve virtuous principles are the best sort of good. He says the former kind of self-love is much more common than the latter.
Cicero (106–43 BC) considered those who were sui amantes sine rivali (lovers of themselves without rivals) were doomed to end in failure.
Jesus (c. 4 BC-30 AD) prioritised the loving of God, and commanded the love other people as one self. Early follower of Jesus Paul of Tarsus wrote that disordinate self-love was opposed to love of God in his letter to the Phillipian church. The author of the New Testament letter of James had the same belief. There is another verse in the Bible that does talk about the importance of self-love found in Mark 12:31 that states, "The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'
However Elaine Pagels, based on scholarship of the Nag Hammadi library and the Greek New Testament, argues that Jesus taught that self-love (philautia) was intrinsic to neighborly, or brotherly-love (philia) and to live according to the law of the love of the most high (agapē). She wrote of this in her eponymously-titled award-winning book on The Gnostic Gospels in 1979. She and later scholars such as Étienne Balibar and Thomas Kiefer have compared this to Aristotle’s discourse on proportion of self-love (philautia) as intrinsic to philia (in Nicomachean Ethics Book 9, Chapter 8).
Christian monk Evagrius Ponticus (345–399) believed excessive self-love (hyperēphania – pride) was one of eight key sins. His list of sins was later lightly adapted by Pope Gregory I as the "seven deadly sins". This list of sins then became an important part of the doctrine of the western church. Under this system, pride is the original and most deadly of the sins. This position was expressed strongly in fiction by Dante's The Divine Comedy.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) believed there were two kinds of self-love. One was "amour de soi" (French for "love of self") which is the drive for self-preservation. Rousseau considered this drive to be the root of all human drives. The other was "amour-propre" (often also translated as "self-love", but which also means "pride"), which refers to the self-esteem generated from being appreciated by other people.
The concept of "ethical egoism" was introduced by the philosopher Henry Sidgwick in his book The Methods of Ethics, written in 1874. Sidgwick compared egoism to the philosophy of utilitarianism, writing that whereas utilitarianism sought to maximize overall pleasure, egoism focused only on maximizing individual pleasure.
In 1890, psychologist William James examined the concept of self esteem in his influential textbook Principles of Psychology. Robert H. Wozniak later wrote that William James's theory of self-love in this book was measured in "... three different but interrelated aspects of self: the material self (all those aspects of material existence in which we feel a strong sense of ownership, our bodies, our families, our possessions), the social self (our felt social relations), and the spiritual self (our feelings of our own subjectivity)".
In 1956 psychologist and social philosopher Erich Fromm proposed that loving oneself is different from being arrogant, conceited or egocentric, meaning that instead caring about oneself and taking responsibility for oneself. Fromm proposed a re-evaluation of self-love in more positive sense, arguing that in order to be able to truly love another person, a person first needs to love oneself in the way of respecting oneself and knowing oneself (e.g. being realistic and honest about one's strengths and weaknesses).
In the 1960s, Erik H. Erikson similarly wrote of a post-narcissistic appreciation of the value of the ego, while Carl Rogers saw one result of successful therapy as the regaining of a quiet sense of pleasure in being one's own self.
Self-love or self-worth was defined in 2003 by Aiden Gregg and Constantine Sedikides as "referring to a person's subjective appraisal of himself or herself as intrinsically positive or negative".
The role of self-love in mental health was first described by William Sweetser (1797–1875) as the maintenance of "mental hygiene". His analysis, demonstrated in his essay "Temperance Society" published August 26, 1830, claimed that regular maintenance of mental hygiene created a positive impact on the well-being of individuals and the community as well.
Lack of self-love increases risk of suicide according to the American Association of Suicidology, The association conducted a study in 2008 which researched the impact of low self-esteem and lack of self-love and its relation to suicidal tendencies and attempts. They defined self-love as being "beliefs about oneself (self-based self-esteem) and beliefs about how other people regard oneself (other-based self-esteem)". It concluded that "depression, hopelessness, and low self-esteem are implications of vulnerability factors for suicide ideation" and that "these findings suggest that even in the context of depression and hopelessness, low self-esteem may add to the risk for suicide ideation".
Self-love was first promoted by the Beat Generation of the 1950s and in the early years of the Hippie era of the 1960s. After witnessing the devastating consequences of World War II and having troops still fighting in the Vietnam War, western (especially North American) societies began promoting "peace and love" to help generate positive energy and to promote the preservation of dissipating environmental factors, such as the emergence of oil pipelines and the recognition of pollution caused by the greenhouse effect.
These deteriorating living conditions caused worldwide protests that primarily focused on ending the war, but secondarily promoted a positive environment aided by the fundamental concept of crowd psychology. This post-war community was left very vulnerable to persuasion but began encouraging freedom, harmony and the possibility of a brighter, non-violent future. These protests took place on almost all continents and included countries such as the United States (primarily New York City and California), England and Australia. Their dedication, perseverance and empathy towards human life defined this generation as being peace advocates and carefree souls.
The emergence of the feminist movement began as early as the 19th century, but only began having major influence during the second wave movement, which included women's rights protests that inevitably led to women gaining the right to vote. These protests not only promoted equality but also suggested that women should recognize their self-worth through the knowledge and acceptance of self-love. Elizabeth Cady Stanton used the Declaration of Independence as a guideline to demonstrate that women have been harshly treated throughout the centuries in her feminist essay titled "Declaration of Sentiments". In the essay she claims that "all men and women are created equal; ... that among these [rights] are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness"; and that without these rights, the capacity to feel self-worth and self-love is scarce. This historical essay suggests that a lack of self-esteem and fear of self-love affects modern women due to lingering post-industrial gender conditions.
Self-love has also been used as a tool in communities of Color in the United States. In the 1970s Black-Power movement, the slogan "Black is beautiful!" became a way for African-Americans to throw off the mantle of predominately White beauty norms. The dominant cultural aesthetic pre-1970s was to straighten Black hair with a perm or hot comb. During the Black Power movement, the "afro" or "fro" became the popular hairstyle. It involved letting Black Hair grow naturally, without chemical treatment, so as to embrace and flaunt the extremely curly hair texture of Black people. Hair was teased out the hair using a pick. The goal was to cause the hair to form a halo around the head, flaunting the Blackness of its wearer. This form of self-love and empowerment during the 70s was a way for African-Americans to combat the stigma against their natural hair texture, which was, and still is, largely seen as unprofessional in the modern workplace.
The emergence of social media has created a platform for self-love promotion and mental health awareness in order to end the stigma surrounding mental health and to address self-love positively rather than negatively.
Beck, Bhar, Brown & Ghahramanlou‐Holloway (2008). "Self-Esteem and Suicide Ideation in Psychiatric Outpatients". Suicide and Life Threatening Behavior 38.